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How an Honorable Elbow Led to One City's Bicycle Revolution

Before Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was thrown off his bike by a taxi, shattering his elbow in the process, L.A. was known as "a pathologically unfriendly bike city." Two years later, the city has made incredible strides in building its bike culture.
January 28, 2013, 7am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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"Before [Villaraigosa's] crash, L.A. was known as as one of the least bike-friendly cities in the country," writes Roy M. Wallack. "Advocates had struggled unsuccessfully for years to get bike lanes and paths. As other big cities raced ahead with cycling infrastructure and automated bike-sharing programs, using cycling to lessen transportation congestion and pollution, L.A. did nothing," 

"But that was then," says Wallack. "Villaraigosa became a cycling advocate after his accident. And L.A. has three high-profile bike projects on its agenda: a 1,680-mile bikeway plan to be installed over the next 30 years; CicLAvia, a Sunday party-on-wheels on car-free routes that draws 100,000 to 200,000 people; and an inexpensive bike rental program that starts this month and will eventually put 4,000 bikes on the roads — the second-biggest rental program in the country."

"In 2012, the League of American Bicyclists for the first time put L.A. on its list of Bike Friendly Communities. Thousands of Angelenos who never cycle-commuted or even rode at all are now doing so."

If you ask Villaraigosa, however, there's more to the story than broken mayoral bones. Inspiring trips to Copenhagen and Mexico City, and the determined work of bicycle advocates, has L.A. primed to make the most of its favorable climate and relatively flat terrain. Ultimately though, it took the political capital of a high placed advocate to speed up the transformation.

"There was a complete sea change when the mayor started throwing his weight around," says Dan Dabek, director of CICLE, a local nonprofit cycling advocacy group. "When he fell off his bike, it was the perfect storm. These ideas were already out there, and Villaraigosa chose the right side of history. There is good momentum. If the new mayor in June keeps the momentum going, we'll be in good shape for the future. "

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Published on Saturday, January 26, 2013 in Los Angeles Times
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